It’s widely recognized that board games have a positive impact on learning and development, specifically in areas such as reading and literacy. Now, a new study has found that for three to nine-years-old, number-based board games can help to improve counting, addition and the ability to spot if a number is higher or lower than the other.
Board games, where players usually take turns to perform actions on or around a board, distinguish themselves from skill-based or gambling games. In boardgames, you have a set of rules that constrain what you can do. There's often a strategic element to them, with the outcome typically being decided by carefully planned moves made on the board.
Yet surprisingly, preschools don't really utilize board games in part of their program.
The positive effects of board games
“Board games enhance mathematical abilities for young children,” lead author Jaime Balladares said a in a statement. “Using board games can be considered a strategy with potential effects on basic and complex math skills Board games can easily be adapted to include learning objectives related to mathematical skills or other domains.”
The researchers explored the extent to which physical board games contribute to learning outcomes in young children. Their study relied on a comprehensive review of 19 studies published from 2000 onwards, involving kids between the ages of three and nine. All studies except one looked at the link between board games and math skills.
Some of the games tested were Snakes and Ladders, The Great Race, 100 House, Monopoly and Gem Heroes. The kids were provided with board game sessions, which occurred, on average, twice a week for 20 minutes over a span of one-and-a-half months. These sessions were led by adults, including teachers, therapists, or parents.
In some of the 19 studies, children were divided into groups, with one group engaging in a number-focused board game while the other group played a non-numeracy-oriented board game. In some other cases, all children participated in number board games but were assigned different types.
All children were assessed on their mathematical performance both before and after the sessions. The researchers categorized success into four areas: basic numeric competency (naming numbers), basic number comprehension (understanding a number is larger than another) deepened number comprehension (addition and subtraction), and interest in math.
In certain cases, parents also attended training sessions to acquire arithmetic skills that they could subsequently utilize during the board game sessions with their children. Overall, results showed that math skills improved after the sessions among children for more than half the tasks analyzed. In a third of the cases, children gained better results than those who didn’t participate in the sessions.
The findings also indicate that, to date, board games in the language or literacy areas didn’t include scientific evaluation to assess their impact on children. Therefore, designing and implementing board games with scientific procedures to assess their efficacy is an urgent task, Balladares said. This is the next project they will be investigating.
“Future studies should be designed to explore the effects that these games could have on other cognitive and developmental skills,” he added. “An interesting space for the development of intervention and assessment of board games should open up in the next few years, given the complexity of games and the need to design more and better games for educational purposes.”
The study was published in the journal Early Years.